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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Discipline of the Lash, or Scourge

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the name given (from the instrument used) to personal mortification or flagellation, inflicted generally voluntarily. "The oldest religious discipline on record occurs amongst the Egyptians, who, when they had sacrificed an ox to Isis on the day of her grand festival to Busiris; stuffed the carcass with fragrant gums and fruits, and burned it. During the burning," says Herodotus (2:40), "they all beat themselves;" and again, "a prodigions number of both sexes beat themselves, and wail during the sacrifice; but I am not prepared to say in whose honor they beat themselves." The διαμαστίλωσις of the Spartans, in honor of Diana Orthia (the next earliest discipline with which we are acquainted), was by no means voluntary. The boys who were compelled to submit to it at first were free- born; afterwards, in wiser times, they were selected from among the children of slaves (Plut. de Mor. Laced.). Cicero, who was a personal witness of this savage custom, has left a fearful account of the cruelty of the tortures and the fortitude of the boys, who sometimes endured even to death (Tusc. Quaesi. 2:14). Philostratus, in his life of Apollonius Tyanaeus, has spoken of certain philosophers who were accustomed to discipline themselves; Artemidorus says the same of the Thracians, and Apuleius of the Syrians. The Roman Lupercalia, in which the noblest matrons willingly submitted to the thong from the hope of fertility, still lingered in the Eternal City long after the establishment of Christianity, and it was not till the close of the fifth century that pope Gelasius succeeded in expelling this last remnant of paganism. "Before the 11th century the discipline of the lash had been confined to only a few severer individuals; but about that time the custom was sanctioned by authority, and a code was framed estimating the precise value of each separate infliction as a commutation for sin. A year of penance amounted to three thousand lashes; and the celebrated ascetic, Dominicus Loricatus, the cuirassed, so named because, except while undergoing discipline, he always wore a shirt of mail next his skin, frequently performed a penance of'100 years, and would continue flogging himself without cessation while he repeated the Psalter twenty times over; 'which,' says his friend and biographer, cardinal Peter Damiano, filled me with trembling and horror when I heard it.' The self-tormenting achievements of St. Dominic may be found in Fleury, Hist. Eccl. 13:96. His usual accompaniment to each single psalm was 100 lashes; so that the whole Psalter, with 15,000 stripes, equaled five years' penance. St. Dominic's allowance, therefore, amounted to the 100 years. If he was prevented by any accident from flogging himself as he wished, he used to beat his head and legs unmercifully."

About 1260 public associations sprang up in Italy for the purpose of discipline, under the name Flagellants (q.v.). "Sometimes discipline was carried to an excess more extravagant than that of St. Dominic himself, if we may judge from the laws of the Visigoths, one of which (lib. 6, tit. 5, section 8) bears the following formidable heading: 'Si indiscreta disciplina percussum mori de flagello contigerit' if death should happen from undue severity. Sometimes it might be received by deputy. It was thus also, namely by proxy, that Henry IV of France was permitted to be reconciled to the Church when he abjured the errors of Protestantism. D'Ossat and Du Perron, both of whom afterwards obtained cardinal's hats, were deputed to suffer the discipline from the Pope himself, who gave them each one lash at every verse of the Miserere. They were allowed to keep their coats on, and they reported that his holiness struck lightly. The narrative of this transaction was not inserted in the bull of absolution, perhaps on account of some compromise between the Pope's pride and the king's honor; but it is recorded in a written process of the ceremonial. An account of the discipline undergone by Henry II after the murder of A Becket is given by Matthew Paris (Sigonius, de Regn. Ital. 19; Du Pin, Bibl., 13 Siecle; Boileau, Hist. Flagel.)." Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, s.v.


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Discipline of the Lash, or Scourge'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/d/discipline-of-the-lash-or-scourge.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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